Mali has been relatively quiet over the past few months, with a UN and Algerian-brokered peace process underway to address decades of ongoing conflicts between the Bamako government and Tuaregs in the north.
However, on April 27, pro-government forces seized the town of Menaka from Tuareg separatists following heavy fighting. Details are scarce. The following day Tuaregs fired on UN peacekeepers near Timbuktu, apparently thinking they were Malian soldiers. The Tuaregs apologized, according to the UN mission spokesman. But, there are also sketchy reports of Tuareg attacks on government troops in the same area at about the same time.
The main Tuareg separatist group is the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). “Azawad” is the name the separatists apply to northern Mali. The MNLA had occupied Menaka in eastern Mali.
In 2012, Tuaregs had separated themselves from Bamako and taken over some two-thirds of the country. Shortly thereafter, al-Qaeda militants took over land occupied by MNLA, ultimately triggering foreign interventions. A multinational, African force, largely directed and coordinated by the French, forced the jihadists out of the cities and towns that they had occupied. However, MNLA continues today as a political movement with the goal of autonomy from Bamako. The UN and Algerian peace process is seeking a solution. Leading up to the peace accord, MNLA has complained that their essential demands are not part of the deal. The concern must be that an upsurge of violence will set the peace process back further.
Whether the peace process can broker a deal between Bamako and the MNLA remains to be seen. A breakdown in the peace process may lead to increased violence.